Minnesota GOP lawmakers want to waive permit training requirement for active-duty military members
NISSWA, Minn. -- Some Minnesota lawmakers want the state's National Guard soldiers to be able to carry firearms without a permit, citing deadly violence against military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Fort Hood, Texas.
NISSWA, Minn. - Some Minnesota lawmakers want the state's National Guard soldiers to be able to carry firearms without a permit, citing deadly violence against military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Fort Hood, Texas.
State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, together with other GOP legislators on Monday announced plans for possible legislation allowing active duty National Guard to carry weapons.
"We should not have to wait for another Chattanooga or Fort Hood," he said in an interview. "ISIS has publicly said that those that follow them should target police officers and people in the armed forces. It's time to take action, it's time to let them defend themselves. Without that, they're sitting ducks."
Gazelka was referencing a mass shooting that occurred July 16 when gunman Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez killed five U.S. service members in an attack on military recruiting facilities in Chattanooga. The first mass shooting incident at the Fort Hood facility in Texas came in 2009, where then-U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan shot 13 people dead and wounded 32 others. Five years later, Ft. Hood was again the scene of mass murder when Spc. Ivan Lopez killed four people, including himself, and wounded 12 others.
After the Chattanooga attack, several governors, including Wisconsin's Scott Walker, moved to allow Guard members to be armed. The nation's Department of Defense is reviewing its policy against arming members of the forces. The Defense Department currently does not support arming of all personnel, according to reports.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said earlier this month that he did not see the need for immediate changes but would study the issue and work with members of the military in Minnesota on needed safety.
But state lawmakers on Monday said changes are needed immediately.
"We need to respond differently," Gazelka said. He said the governor and the Legislature could make changes to Guard policies but could not change policy for other troops.
Gazelka said Dayton should mandate that armed National Guard troops be posted at "key places that are vulnerable" via an executive order, or at least give bases the option to post guards.
Minnesota National Guard spokesman Col. Kevin Olson said the Guard has reviewed the safety of its facilities recently -- before the Chattanooga shooting -- and made changes.
"While we do not disclose specific security measures at our facilities, enhanced steps include increased patrols, heightened physical security, verification of visitors, a review of emergency action procedures and vehicle security," he said. "Armed security officers are permanently stationed at the air bases in Duluth and Minneapolis."
The statement also said: "At this time, our force protection measures will not include arming soldiers and airmen whose regular duties are not security-related."
Gazelka was inspired to start creating the legislation after two National Guard soldiers based at Camp Ripley came to him with fears for their safety "in light of what was happening nationwide," he said. Camp Ripley does not have armed guards at their checkpoints, Gazelka said. He said the soldiers wished to remain anonymous.
Camp Ripley spokesperson Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey declined to confirm whether the gate guards carried weapons or not, saying it was against policy to comment on specific security measures at the base.
State Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, who also backs the idea, said he heard concerns from constituents as well.
"Our service members are completely unable to defend themselves, except to remove themselves from the situation," he said.
Heintzeman said the lawmakers had preliminary bill language drawn up but it was "very, very likely to change" as debate over the measure goes forward.
Gazelka said he had been in contact with staffers for the Minnesota Adjutant General, commander of the Minnesota Guard, and Gazelka "will not move forward with any legislation that they are not in agreement with," he said.
"The idea is to work with them, not against them," he said. "I assured them that we're going to work on this together."
Active duty military members already undergo screening that makes them qualified to carry weapons, Gazelka said.
"I believe (the screening) makes them a safer population to carry than even the general population at large," he said.
The next regular session of the Minnesota Legislature begins March 8, 2016.
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.